Trauma is like an earthquake to our nervous system, an intense rumble in our core that shakes us with anguish for years. Our emotional wellbeing can be one of many casualties, along with our sense of confidence, trust, and our ability to feel safe. Every time we experience trauma, we risk irrevocable ruin. Sometimes, we hear the echoes of that ruin late at night, when sleep is too distant to reach. Sometimes it tugs at our gut when we least expect it, when we swear we were fully healed.
If you’re a victim of childhood trauma, that doesn’t mean you need to keep reliving toxic cycles or driving away good things and good people. There’s an old quote by American educator Randy Pausch that goes, “It’s not about the cards you’re dealt, but how you play the hand.” What this means is that just because you were born into abuse, poverty, or absolute mayhem, that doesn’t mean you can’t rise above it. The challenges will be there, but that just means the victories will be even more fulfilling. Here’s how you can break the cycle once and for all:
Feel your feelings
There’s nothing more disruptive to the healing process than resisting our emotions. It is always healthiest to process our feelings (sadness, remorse, fear, resentment, anger, humiliation) when they first happen to avoid them getting trapped in our body and then saluting us again years later. Unfortunately, societal pressures can block this flow of emotions and cause us to repress what we are feeling until long after we should be moved on from the initial trauma. Remember, not every stab wound needs to scar.
Face your demons
This one is perhaps the most brutal, but also the most necessary. And if you’ve been wounded by trauma, you most certainly have demons. If you can’t face the darkest parts of yourself, then healing is nothing but a pipe dream. We’ve all experienced shame throughout our tender histories, but that doesn’t mean we need to possess that shame forever. Acknowledge your traumas rather than try to deny their existence or minimize their impact. They are an important part of who you are today, and though they may be painful in their remembrance, they are there to help prepare you for what’s next. You are not responsible for your childhood trauma, but you are responsible for accepting it for what it is and using it as fuel to let it transform you into the best you can be.
Forgive, forgive, forgive
Never underestimate the power of forgiveness. Forgiveness has very little to do with the individuals we are forgiving, and everything to do with ourselves and letting go of stale, toxic energy that is holding us back from becoming the person we’re meant to become. Grudges are not only cumbersome cargo, they also wreak havoc on our physical wellbeing over time. Don’t forget to forgive yourself while you’re at it.
Accept help from others
One of the worst impacts that trauma can have on us in the long-term is our relationships with others. It can cause us to throw emotional barriers in front of those we love. It can cause us to spill poison from our mouths whenever someone tries to lend a helping hand. Speaking to a therapist or even just a willing friend can offer perspectives that differ from our own. It can allow us to be heard without judgment rearing its ugly head. It is through this empathetic exchange that we may be offered an ideal solution or, at the very least, be given permission to talk through the debacle so that we don’t feel so hopelessly alone. Sometimes all a heart needs to heal is the company of another.
Access the mind-body connection
Since trauma leaves its remnants in our mind and body, tapping into our mind-body connection can prove extremely effective. This includes everything from yoga and meditation to cognitive behavioral therapy or somatic therapies like EFT and EMDR. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of talk-therapy that focuses on rewiring the brain’s thought patterns and false beliefs instilled by trauma, whereas EFT and EMDR are body-based therapies that focus on releasing trauma through movement and other forms of nonverbal expression. There are also plenty of experiential therapies to explore, such as music, drama, art, wilderness, or animal-assisted therapy. No two people will respond the same way to therapy, so it’s worth trialing a variety of approaches. Remember, if you give your mind and body love, they will love you back.
The healing journey is never linear. It’s messy. Confusing. It backtracks. It hurts. But in the end, it’s always worth the trouble of opening the floodgates of your emotions, of dismantling old beliefs, of letting people in, of forgiving those who hurt you most, of locating the sad inner-child within you and loving him or her anyway. Because if you do, you will not reverse your history, but you will rehabilitate your present and your future. If you do, you will not eliminate your pain, but you will forever strengthen your ability to manage pain, until eventually turning it into progress. Trauma doesn’t always start with us, but its effects can most certainly end with us.
Even when it doesn’t feel like it, you have the power to change your life’s narrative. You are the ruler of your world, no one else. That crown and scepter have only your name engraved on them.
It’s up to you what you do with that power—but have it be for good, not evil. At the end of the day, the only person you’re hurting by being stuck in a rut is yourself. Just know you don’t have to endlessly float down your river of emotions; you can pick up an oar any time and paddle in any direction, even against the current.
Don’t think of obstacles as blocking your path. They’re crossroads, allowing you to choose your direction. You’re in control of your path, even if it’s separate from others. Everyone has their own north star, all in different places in the night sky.
And it’s okay for that place to change. The life you originally imagined for yourself may be different now. Those dreams may be different. The people in it may be different. You may be different.
Change is a scary word. It has permanency written all over it. But what or who changes doesn’t have to remain that way forever. You don’t have to force yourself or your life to fit an unsuitable mold.
That’s the beauty of being human; nothing is set in stone. Not your thoughts, feelings, goals, or plans. Once you learn to embrace the flow of things, you’ll set yourself free. You’ll break the chains of stagnancy.
Evolving means figuring life out for yourself, on your terms, in your own way. Your preferences and personality shift those definitions. Your dictionary and atlas of your world are unique—don’t rewrite or redraw them because someone says your perspective is incorrect.
Remember, you’re in control. Don’t let external factors like others’ opinions or ideas of you prevent evolving into the person you want to be.
This narration is yours to create, so start writing your next story. What are you waiting for?
You do everything in your power not to face the silence. When there’s silence, your thoughts remind you just how lonely it can really feel—and that’s not a feeling you’re ready to face.
People admire your spontaneity, but they don’t really know you’re running away from yourself. You want to shut off every moment you want to escape from your life and flee. They don’t know about the moments you wanted to be someone else. They don’t know about the moments your free spirit and need for adventure comes with a price tag, the fact that you just keep running away until your thoughts are empty.
People admire your independence, but they don’t know you’re just trying to keep them at arm’s length to not be hurt again. What they perceive as strong and courageous, you perceive as cold-hearted and mean. Because the truth is, this isn’t who you are. This is just who you had to become in order to survive the harshness of the world.
People admire your deep love for adventure and seeing the world for what it is, but they don’t know you’ve been doing this all your life. The moment you’re overwhelmed with your reality and questioning if this is all life really has to offer, you run away. Each time you’re dealing with anxiety, you run away. Each time you feel something—anything other than happiness—you run.
Most importantly, people admire you for your evident ambition and career path. After all, you got everything you ever wanted, right? But deep rooted in all that success and wealth is just a desire to feel like you belong somewhere. Deep down, it’s a cry for help that you just want someone—anyone at all—to know that your success is one big facade for the desire to be understood for everything you want to scream out loud.
See, the thing is, being loved is completely different from being understood. You can love someone without peeling all their layers until you discover every part of who they are. You can love the best parts of them without really craving the darkness of their mind. But that’s not real love to begin with. Because with real love, vulnerability shouldn’t even be something you hide away from—it should be a given.
Here are some poetic reminders when you need to cut out someone toxic:
1. Cutting others out doesn’t mean you’re heartless. It simply means you’re prioritizing your heart now.
2. If you want to destroy your life, keep believing in the sunk cost fallacy. Keep telling yourself that your history with someone means you can’t possibly walk away from them. Keep refusing to abandon anything that you’ve invested a heavy dose of time and energy into, because you mistakenly believe it’s better to hold on until your knuckles bleed than to even consider loosening your grip. But, if you want to enhance your life, accept that you owe it to yourself to examine all possibilities. Staying isn’t a requirement, no matter how many years you’ve poured into this person, how used you are to having them in your orbit. Remember, saying goodbye to someone you were close with for years doesn’t mean you wasted your past. It means you’re making the most of your present. It means you’re saving yourself time in the future.
3. Stop thinking of it as losing them. Think of it as gaining the person you were meant to be.
4. Two truths can exist simultaneously. You can love them. And you can love yourself more without them.
5. Every second you wait to leave, you’re prolonging the pain. Worse than that, you’re putting your eventual happiness on hold. You’re putting your impending future on hold. The sooner you get through the brutal pieces, the sooner you’ll reach the euphoric ones. The moments that will make all of this pain worthwhile.
6. Your time is power, and you don’t owe them a second of it. Even if you choose to accept their apology, it doesn’t mean you have to resume your relationship with them. Forgiveness doesn’t automatically equal reconciliation. You can block them and wish the best for them. You can say goodbye while appreciating the sweet memories you’ve shared. Cutting ties doesn’t mean that you have hate for this person in your heart. It means that they are no longer a positive influence in your world, that their absence is crucial, that you are better off on diverging journeys.
7. You shouldn’t settle for a relationship you can tolerate. A partner you can tolerate. Love you can tolerate. If your connection is not fulfilling you physically, emotionally, and spiritually, then it’s not where you should make a home.
8. If you wish they would cheat, wish they would hurt you, wish they would give you incentive to finally, officially walk away – then that is your reason to walk away. That is the only excuse that you need. That frame of mind, that deep-seated desperation for an out, means leaving is long overdue. A force within you obviously wants this to end, and what is the difference between leaving now or leaving after they screw up? Is it because you don’t want to be the one to blame for the uncoupling? Because you believe it’s selfish to make choices centered around your own happiness? Or because you’re worried of how it will be received? Please, don’t force yourself to stick around because you’re worried about looking like the bad guy, because you feel guilty about breaking a heart, because you’re dreading the whispers that will trail you like a shadow by outsiders who don’t know the first thing about your situation. If you want to leave, you owe it to yourself to walk away. Don’t wait until it gets worse. Don’t wait until you have a more ‘reasonable’ reason to go. You’ve already waited long enough.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve experienced hurt and anger at some point. Whether it involved another person or a situation, we can become embroiled in negativity that may last moments or our entire life. There are many perspectives on how to heal and transform hurt and anger, particularly from a psychotherapy model. But I’d like to explore how to transform these two emotions using a combination of approaches.
Hurt and anger are powerful emotions that can feed off one another if we are unaware. For example, the hurt experienced from a negative event may lead to anger and, conversely, anger usually carries an underlying hurt. We may find ourselves stuck in a vicious cycle of feeding the hurt, which provides fuel for the anger. Therefore, we must become mindful of how anger manifests in our life. For instance, do we act out our anger by expressing it through physical harm to ourselves or others? Do we experience anger within our body via tightness or muscle constriction? This may include a rapid heartbeat, tension headaches or muscle tightness. Namely, anger can manifest in other physiological ways and get stored in our muscles and bodily organs.
The mind-body connection is extremely powerful. So, if an emotion is not dealt with properly, it will find a body system to express itself because the role of an emotion is to move through us. The neuroanatomist, Dr Jill Bolte Taylor, believesit takes 2 ½ minutes for an emotion to move through our nervous system. To express it differently, if we suppress our anger, it may become stored in an area of the body and manifest into something sinister. How do you recognize hurt and anger in your body? Where do you feel it? What practices do you undertake to process the emotional pain?
To transform our hurt and anger requires practicing mindfulness and self-compassion. I’m focusing on these two qualities, but there are many others, such as forgiveness and psychotherapy-based approaches, which are all very helpful. Through the gift of mindfulness, we become attuned to where hurt and anger are stored in our body. What is more, we learn to identify when we are triggered and notice the hurt and anger present within our body. So, it becomes an embodied experience, meaning we somatically perceive the emotions through our nervous system without deferring them. Through the power of mindfulness, we move our attention to the area of the body where the emotion is active and create a container to observe the emotion. In other words, we feel the hurt and anger as they arise and allow them to pass through our nervous system without passing judgment or criticism.
Being Compassionate With Ourselves
The second part to heal hurt and anger involves becoming intimate with what we are experiencing. Through the power of self-directed compassion, we nurture ourselves and attend to our wounded parts that need attention. What does this look like you ask? It is the process of emotional regulation, where we become comfortable with the discomfort of feeling hurt and anger instead of running away from them. Activities that defer dealing with our wounds and are the opposite of self-directed compassion. For instance, the Buddhist psychotherapist Tara Brach who wrote the book Radical Acceptance coined an acronym she calls R.A.I.N. Using this method, we become intimate with our negative emotions and process them in a healthy way instead of ignoring them.
1. Recognise what is happening;
2. Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
3. Investigate with interest and care;
4. Nurture with self-compassion.
Is this something you’re willing to give your attention to? Could you stop running from your negative emotions and sit with them, even the difficult ones like hurt and anger? I realize this is a big ask and you may not know the answer, which is okay. The only way to discover it is by trying Tara Brach’s method. So, when hurt or anger arises, instead of blaming the situation or the person for your emotional pain, use the R.A.I.N. method to process your emotions. Through the gift of mindfulness and compassion, we can investigate our painful emotions by visualizing a white room with an open doorway. We are standing inside the room and welcoming the emotions passing through. We become curious and open to the messages the emotions convey. For instance, in IFS (Internal Family System), it is called being Self-led and inhabiting our core identity, which is undamaged and whole. The Self (purposely capitalized) represents what is called the 8 C’s: compassion, curiosity, clarity, creativity, calm, confidence, courage, and connectedness.
The aim in IFS is to perceive our hurt and anger through the lens of the 8 C’s. So if we feel hesitation towards our hurt and anger, it is a queue to create space between ourselves and the emotions. Then we can investigate them with openness, so we can inhabit the 8 C’s more often. This can take some practice, hence why it’s important we become mindful of our reaction to negative emotions. More importantly, we become compassionate with ourselves as we process the wounds of the past, particularly our hurt and anger. We are rewiring our nervous system and dampening our response to being triggered. We are grooving new neural pathways to facilitate the gift of self-directed compassion and kindness.
This can be a beautiful journey because hurt and anger needn’t dominate our mind-body permanently. We can choose to respond differently when these emotions surface. If you keep a diary or journal, take notes on your progress. Don’t give up because it seems difficult or you’re not experiencing immediate results. To draw an analogy, if you’re injured or have undergone surgery, you know it can take weeks and months to fully heal. Emotional healing is similar and we ought to be patient with the process and ourselves. After all, if we wish to transform the hurt and anger we’ve been carrying, it lies in our ability to be mindful and compassionate with ourselves.
So often we stop ourselves from doing things in life because we don’t feel like we’re good enough at them. But ironically, we know that it’s only when we give ourselves permission to fail that we can ever become good at these things in the first place.
We’re afraid to be seen as a failure in the eyes of others so we don’t bother trying at all. But it’s time we changed the narrative. It’s time we encourage people to make mistakes more often, fail at things miserably, and encourage them to develop their skill at something. It’s time we change the story and encourage more people to take the chance of looking like a failure.
There are so many people out there who are hiding their desires from the rest of the world. They wear a metaphorical mask in their life and do things that don’t ultimately align with who they really are because they’ve adopted the limiting belief that they must live the perfect life.
But the truth is, there is no perfect life. There is no such thing as perfection when it comes to being human, and as much as we’d like to hide the fact that we’re not, we need to embrace imperfection and connect to one another on the notion that you don’t have to be perfect.
The need to be ‘perfect’ is often a function of a person’s past belief systems that they’ve adopted. Perhaps your parents wanted you to be perfect and now it gives you immense anxiety when you aren’t. By becoming aware of your prior beliefs, you can change the story for yourself and start adopting new, consciously chosen beliefs that serve you.
You can build any skill that you’d like if you’re willing to put in your 10,000 hours into it. It was never about building the perfect life; it was about building the life that feels right, which is more often than not a result of trial and error, missteps, and wrong turns along the way.
Let go of the need to be perfect and watch your life change; perfect is boring anyway. Nobody is inspired by someone that had the perfect life. People want to hear the real story—the true story—that sets our souls on fire when we hear it.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Being afraid of failure is the silent killer of success.
Growth is inherently uncomfortable because you’re entering new spaces you’ve never ventured into before. But discomfort is not a bad thing. It is just a sign that things are changing.
Here are 10 uncomfortable but powerful signs that prove you’re evolving.
1. You’ve stopped talking so much shit.
Gossip used to be an easy way for you to make conversation but it no longer aligns with the person you’re becoming. In fact, you actually feel ashamed and embarrassed of the things you used to say about people in an attempt to bond with others. Now, you have bigger, more important things to talk about than the perceived shortcomings and faults of other people. You also realize that, more often than not, talking a bunch of shit about someone else says a lot more about you than it does them.
2. You’re finally facing what isn’t working in your life.
Rather than ignoring the things that aren’t serving you, you’re choosing to be honest with yourself instead. Whether it’s your job, your love life, your lifestyle, or your living situation, you are finally coming to terms with the fact that you are not where you want to be. And even though it totally sucks and is uncomfortable to face this truth, you have decided you no longer want to lie to yourself either. To you, this is a worse fate.
3. You’re outgrowing friendships at a rapid speed.
Nothing was wrong with the friendships necessarily. You’re just realizing you have less and less in common with some friends as you grow into more adult versions of yourselves. You’re spending far more time solo as a result, and it can get lonely, but you also feel more like yourself than you have in a long, long time.
4. You’re having more uncomfortable conversations.
You’re having more uncomfortable conversations, but only because you’re no longer afraid to have them. You now understand that in order to maintain healthy relationships, you need to be willing to talk about the hard stuff.
5. You’re beginning to put yourself first (even though it makes you feel guilty).
This isn’t to say you aren’t there for the people in your life, you are, but you no longer bending over backward and stretching yourself too thin in order to be a “good” friend, daughter, girlfriend, etc. because you realize the right people will understand. While you still feel guilty about putting yourself first as needed, it’s only because you’re not used to doing so. It will get easier with time.
6. You’ve stopped trusting as easily.
You now understand your story is earned, not a given. Trust is built, not guaranteed.
7. You’re questioning pretty much everything.
Your world literally feels upside down. You feel completely ungrounded. Your morals are changing, your worldview is shifting, and your perception about pretty much everything is no longer familiar. This is good. It shows you’re starting to think for yourself.
8. You’re noticing your negative self-talk more.
Your negative self-talk is becoming more and more difficult to tune out. This isn’t because it’s increasing. It’s because you’re finally becoming more aware of the ways you talk to yourself and how detrimental those words can be. Now, you’re attempting to reroute your self-talk into a more positive voice. It’s difficult, and it feels unnatural, but you know it is necessary to become a healthier version of yourself.
9. You’ve stopped numbing yourself to pain.
You’ve stopped coping in unhealthy ways in order to numb pain. Now, you let yourself feel whatever it is you do because you realize that this is the only way to move past what hurts. It’s the only way to heal.
10. You look back at former versions of yourself and cringe.
Your old Facebook memories make you roll your eyes. You think back to who you were in your teens, your early 20s, or even last year and begin to shame spiral thinking about who you have been. But this is a good thing because it proves you’ve grown and that you’re on the right path. Just know, younger versions of you deserve love, too. You wouldn’t be who you are today without them, after all.
Trauma is the deep wound that creeps up on you out of nowhere. It’s the hurt you think you got over but still says hello from time to time. It’s the fear, the panic, and the crippling anxiety that something terrible might be around the corner, because that’s the thing about trauma—it’s the thing you never thought would happen. It is nights spent crying and mornings that remind you of the past. It’s the joy tainted by deep-seated pain that has made your heart its home. It’s the fear of enjoying something good. Trauma shocks you and leaves you with all kinds of questions. It leaves you confused about how the world can be so cruel? It’s this element in your life you want to shake off but can’t unsee or unlearn. It happened.
And perhaps you will never shake it off. Perhaps it’s a terrible truth that you have to learn to live with. Sometimes we can’t sugarcoat it. Yes, we can try to work around the narrative, and we can try to heal, or we can try to justify why the world can be cruel and unkind. But maybe the pain doesn’t necessarily completely go away. Trauma often has long-lasting effects. It’s the thing that you don’t have to succumb to but rather have to fight against once you know its effect on you. Fear of abandonment? Anxiety attacks? Anger? You name it. You’ll have to work around it and I am so sorry you encountered a trauma in your life. It takes a lot to stand and face the pain. Traumatized people are all around us.
But don’t lose hope yet or ever. Yes, you’ve experienced something heartbreaking, but you can also be the person to make sure that what happened to you never happens to anyone else. You can try to make the world a safer place and a kinder place. You can try to minimize the pain. I know your pain cripples you but trust me, when you play a role in making someone avoid the pain you felt, you’ll feel like you weren’t a victim, and you’ll set your heart free. You would be doing the opposite of what happened to you. You’d be making others feel safe, held and cared for. You’d make the world a less traumatic place. Your pain doesn’t have to drown you. Your pain can stir change.
On that note, I believe there is a way to heal and that is by having something beautiful happen to us. Something unexpectedly soothing. Just like the trauma threw us off balance, something beautiful can restore it. I believe we can heal when something heavenly happens to us, something that almost feels like a dream. At least then we can say that the world is not only cruel but it can also be very kind. And it’s true the world has both, but we have to have experienced them to believe it. My wish for you is to experience something extremely wonderful that will restore your faith in humanity. But until then, start by doing that yourself, and there I think you will find what your heart needs. There I think you will set your heart free. There you’ll untie the knots in your heart.
Something happened to you and you became numb. You stopped feeling. You took your pain inward and banished it to the depths of your mind. You did this as a means of protection. You thought it was an act of self-love, not allowing yourself to feel the hurt.You suppressed the trauma and the hurt became dominant.
But let me tell you this: exiling your trauma to the back of your mind will allow it to become a part of you. And it’s tender, the way it settles quietly into your body.
You will start to notice the body language of trauma: your body tightens and caves in. You fold your arms and tuck your legs to your chest and let yourself become as small as you can be. Your body will become afraid of its own shadow, afraid of the way its darkness takes up space.
The longer you pretend your trauma doesn’t exist, pretend it doesn’t still hurt, the more distant it becomes – but it will also get stronger too. Eventually, your hurt will swell. It will take up so much space inside of you that you don’t even realize it. And it will become nearly impossible to defeat. It will become louder and it will convince you that the trauma was your fault: what happened and how you dealt with it.
This is the brutality of it all: you hold yourself back from feeling that pain, despite how crucial it is. You fawn. You tiptoe around it as if your mind is a minefield: you dodge the memories of how it felt and what hurt the most.
It’s complex, the very thing you’re afraid of is what you have to face the most. In its own twisted way, this “armor” is self-sabotage: by letting your trauma make a home in your body, you’re keeping yourself from true healing.
You have to return to the war. You have to let yourself feel it all: the righteous anger, the quiet grief. Bring the trauma to the forefront of your brain and fight it. Don’t let yourself be numb to it forever. By confronting it, you can then let it go. Don’t let yourself become numb to the trauma forever. Be brave enough to go back to the battlefield and face it head-on. Stare it down until it surrenders. Fight for your healing. Your heart. Yourself. Because you don’t really have another choice.